Tech report: Seems the old blog has been on the net all the time, but some links led to the Latin gibberish template page and some didn’t. I’ll have to straighten that out, but I replaced the Latin with book reviews, and it now links to the blog part of the site. I’m still learning all this. It’s good for the brain, they say, to learn something entirely new, not just a new song if you already know lots, but a whole new skill. I’ve already learned songs and dances and music theory and drawing and calligraphy and librarianship and songwriting and book design and cooking and sewing and doing word puzzles and games and gardening and it seemed like I’d run out of totally new things to learn that I want to learn, but then I got this laptop and now I’m learning iWeb and GarageBand.
Montana catch-up: Friday night we went to an open mike at Cafe 121, the pizza/espresso/ice cream cafe on Main Street. The place was packed. The music was everything from old-time fiddle to cowboy to garage band. Three of Judy’s private students performed. One is a nine-year-old who has more stage presence than most adults—and a good voice, too. I think we’ll be seeing him on a larger stage in a few years. I sang “The Dog’s Questions,” which was well received. The photos were taken by one of Judy’s adult students.
                               Photo by Lawson Drinkard.
When you have finished your dinner
And don’t want to eat any more,
Why put your plate on the counter
When it could go on the floor?
    Garbage! I love it!
    Don’t shove it away!
    There’s a nice piece...
    If I may?
You tell me that bones are a danger,
That cooked ones will stick in my craw,
I have an easy solution:
Why don’t you eat your meat raw?
Oh, don’t take away my good garbage!
That is my everyday plea.
Why are you filling the landfill,
When you could be filling me?
You ask why I’m barking and howling
When it’s but five a. m.
There’s men out there taking our garbage!
Why aren’t you questioning them?
©2008 by Nancy Schimmel
I had some fun with the audience. I introduced the song by saying, “this song I wrote is a little controversial...” Judy reported afterwards that she saw people look apprehensive at that, since some of them are homophobic fundamentalists and they know Judy is a Lesbian feminist and I was with her. “I know there’s lots of disagreement on what you should feed your dog,” I continued. “I’m just reporting the dog’s point of view.” Most folks relaxed then, but some took a verse or two to warm up. Judy grew up in Big Timber, so the old-timers know her, it’s mostly the newcomers who don’t see her as an individual. (I got to know her when she lived in the Bay Area.)
I’m loving being here. It’s not just the spectacular scenery but the Montana attitude. For instance, I found an interesting chapter on Ku Klux Klan activities in Montana in the twenties and thirties (around the time when the Klan was active in Southern California and a group raided my grandparents’ house). The book’s title? Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks in Montana History (Dave Walter, ed., Falcon, 2000). I’m also reading a Molly Ivins book, Nothing but Good Times Ahead, which is also full of lovely attitude, Texas-style. When we lived in Long Beach, my parents’ best friends were transplants from Texas, and I have the most pleasant associations with Texas talk. Here’s a sample from Molly Ivins: “A recent Ku Klux Klan rally in Austin produced an eccentric counter-demonstration. When the fifty Klansmen appeared (they were bussed in from Waco) in front of the state capitol, they were greeted by five thousand locals who had turned out for a ‘Moon the Klan’ rally. Citizens dropped trou both singly and in groups, occasionally producing a splendid wave effect. It was a swell do.”
Sunday: Judy drove us in to Bozeman to be part of the Unitarian-Universalist service, which, since they don’t have a building of their own, they hold in a senior center. To make the generic place more theirs, they put a beautiful six-panel folding screen in front of the windows. It was  made by some of the members and provides a backdrop so the congregation isn’t looking into the light as they listen to the sermon. I did the story-for-all-ages (Elk and Wren) and Judy sang “I Think of a Dragon” before the children left for their separate activities, and then Judy sang Bob Blue’s “Courage,” and after the sermon, which was on compassion, we led “We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For.” After lunch with the minister and friends we went shopping at the natural food co-op and two of the people working there had been to the service. We did some more shopping and went home, and it’s good to be back in little Big Timber again after a day in the big city. And on the way home we saw three bald eagles really near the freeway.
We finally got a totally clear night and could see the Pleiades even in front of Judy’s house where the streetlights are. We were walking Hallie, the dog, and when we got to the dark end of the street beyond the last house we got a real desert night sky, Sirius, Orion, a faint Milky Way, and just to the right of the Crazies the Pole Star.
Monday night: an even clearer night and Jupiter coming in for a landing. We worked on two of the songs, Judy writing tunes and us adjusting the words to fit.
We also finally went birding after a postponement. I’m not a birder, but Judy is, and I enjoy going with her. At first we saw nothing but crows and magpies and some eagles from a great distance. Then we went by a cliff Judy knew about. Cassandra was out of the car first and saw an eagle taking off from its nest, but I got to see the nest, very close, and we all saw what Judy had in store for us: grey-crowned rosy-finches ducking in and out of sun-warmed swallow’s nests, like little passive-solar cobb houses. The swallows build and use them in the summer and the finches sub-let in the winter.
Tuesday: I was in a great situation for watching the inauguration. Friends of Judy’s had a brunch at their house with TVs set up in the living room, the dining room, and the bedroom, so everybody got a good view. It’s true that everybody there was white, but when a fellow sat down at the piano and played “Lift Every Voice,” a half-dozen of us joined in with heart-felt singing of all three verses. That was the first point where I got misty-eyed, thinking back to singing that song at NAACP meetings with my parents when I was a kid. And how appropriate the words are now, ”...a new day begun...” and that soaring melody. And then of course looking at the Mall, trying to imagine what it would feel like with over a million people. There were only a quarter of a million when I was there for the 1963 March on Washington, and where I was toward the back there was plenty of room to breathe and walk around, but today people definitely looked squished. And happy. I listened to Rick Warren and thought If only he practiced what he preaches. So Obama gave a good speech, but I thought the high points were Aretha Franklin breathing new life into tired old “My Country ’Tis of Thee”—new black life—and Rev. Lowrey of SCLC quoting “Lift Every Voice” and other songs in his uplifting and down-home benediction. Then when Bush was leaving in his helicopter Tom sat down at the piano again and led us in a medley of “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You,” “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead” and “Happy Days Are Here Again.” (Where Claudia watched in Oakland, there was spontaneous shoe-throwing when Bush appeared.) I know I couldn’t live in Big Timber, but right now I don’t miss Berkeley much. I’m busy, but not as tense as at home. Not driving helps, I think, and no phone.
Wednesday, 7:45 a.m.: As I check my email (two song revisions from Judy) and write this I’m watching what Judy calls “the morning show” out the window—sunrise on the Crazies. Today there are just enough clouds to make it spectacular and the tops of the eastern peaks are just now catching the direct light. It changes every few minutes. Now they are all in light, still pinkish on the snow, though the clouds are fading. I will miss this.
Ten minutes later, the whole range is in shadow and the clouds are all different shades of grey. Time to get dressed and start the day.
I didn’t see the pre-inauguration concert on Sunday but just heard that Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen ended it with ALL the verses of “This Land Is Your Land.”
Friday: We’re finally getting some Montana winter weather. When we went to the bank after our concert for the two fourth grades at Big Timber Elementary School, the temperature reading on the sign was seven degrees Fahrenheit, in bright sunshine. There’s snow on the ground and the mountains are still hidden in clouds. This morning I got up to four deer, one a fawn I think, picking their way across the snow-covered slope below my porch. The concert was partly to try out most of the songs destined for the CD as a set, and they went well. These kids were enthusiastic singers. It helps that some of them are or have been Judy’s private students. The one song they were already familiar with was “Magic Penny.”
I caught my daughter on the phone this afternoon, just before she left to sing “Hair” at a ceremonial hair-cutting. A man she knows in Seattle with long white hair and a long beard is finally getting his hair cut—he had vowed not to cut it while Bush was in office. Many kinds of celebrations. Is anybody collecting them? Doing a dissertation?
Later: I sang “The New Restaurant” and “The Corn Syrup Special” at the open mike tonight, both well received and sung along to. It wasn’t all music this time—Cassandra Mitchell (she used to run the Diner in Yountville) read some poetry by Mary Oliver and others, and a guy got up and read a picture book, Rosie and the Rustlers. Did a good job, too. He didn’t show the pictures, just advised us to go to the library and check it out. Another man came up to me afterwards, liked the songs, wondered if I wrote poetry, and would I be performing again next week. I told him I’d be going home to California on Sunday. “Well, you bring us a lesson,” he said. “We don’t usually like Californians.” He may not be aware that Cassandra from California is the main volunteer at the Sweet Grass County food bank.
Monday: Home again. In Montana and on the way home I was reading Heretic: A Partisan Autobiography by Steve Fritchman, who was pastor of the Los Angeles Unitarian Church. My parents occasionally attended that church from Long Beach when it was a haven for progressives during the McCarthy era, and my mother wrote a song, “I Don’t MInd Failing,” inspired by one of Fritchman’s sermons. The book is reminding me of the Hollywood Ten and other causes of the time, and I’m also picking up the odd tidbit. For instance, Fritchman writes about coming to Los Angeles from New England with little idea of the history of the West, including the great Mexican influence. “We had learned too little of the merciless theft of California from Mexico at the time of the Mexican War in 1846, when there were but 700 Americans living in all of California....I was guilty of my own amnesia about President Polk’s unpopular two-year war....I had once read the words of Congressman Abraham LIncoln, who had declared, as he voted against it, that ‘the war against Mexico was unconstitutionally commenced by our President.’” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Rant Alert:
I just saw that bumper strip again that says “Animals are little people in fur coats.” This annoys me on so many levels I don’t know where to begin, but let’s try frogs. Or rattlesnakes. If you want to think of a rattlesnake as a little person in a fur coat, well, it’s a free country. But even if you said “Mammals are little people in fur coats,” which doesn’t have the same ring to it, what about moose? Grizzlies? I’m as guilty of personification of animals, right down to coral polyps, as the next writer for children or folk-tale-teller, but I hope I’m not sentimentalizing them, which is how the bumper strip strikes me, now that I think about it. And from sentimental it is but a short step to condescending. Which I suspect is the opposite of what the bumper-strip writer intended.
©2009 by Nancy Schimmel
At the open mike in Big Timber. Photo by Lawson Drinkard. Judy’s guitar.
Saturday, February 28, 2009